If you've already made your own homemade ginger ale, then you might be in the mood to try something with a bit more of a kick to it. The process for making alcoholic ginger beer is very similar to soda; you just let the fermentation continue for longer so that alcohol is formed.
A good ginger beer should give you a warming tingle as you drink it–not from the alcohol, but from the bite of the ginger.
This recipe is designed to be done the "easy way", meaning you only need two pieces of fermentation equipment that you may not already have–a 1-gallon glass jug and a fermentation lock. However, I've also included some advanced tips–they are optional, but will make the brewing process easier.
Ginger Beer Ingredients
- 2 ½ lb Ginger Root (less if you'd like less of a "bite"
- 12 c Water
- 1 ½ c Packed Brown Sugar
- 1 c Lemon Juice (preferably freshly squeezed)
- 1 package Champagne Yeast
Sanitize all your equipment–anything that will touch the ginger beer. The easy way is give everything a 20 minute soak in a solution of water and chlorine bleach (1 tablespoon bleach per 1 gallon of water). After the soak, be sure to thoroughly wash and rinse everything; you don’t want any traces of bleach killing off your yeast! Be sure to allow everything to air dry–you just killed off any germs, why risk putting them back with a slightly dirty towel?
Scrub the ginger root and remove any blemishes or bad spots, but leave the skins on.
Coarsely chop it, then combine it with 1 cup of water in your food processor and pulse until you have a pulp.
Bring the remaining 11 cups of water almost to a boil–warm enough so that it will dissolve the sugar. Add the brown sugar and mix thoroughly until is completely dissolved. Add the lemon juice and ginger root pulp (with the water) and set it aside to cool for an hour or two.
Pour the ginger/sugar/water mixture into a 1 gallon glass jug–the type that apple cider comes in. For this easy recipe, I'm just using a single fermentation vessel, the glass jug.
Advanced Tip: The "advanced" way would be to use a primary fermenter and a secondary fermenter. The primary fermenter would be a 2-gallon food-grade plastic bucket with a snap-on lid, and the secondary fermenter would be your glass jug.
The benefit to using a plastic primary fermenter is that you can use all of the water that you'll need for the process–we're going to be adding some additional water later on in the fermentation, but with a 2-gallon primary fermenter you can start with all the water you need. Also, some fermentations will produce quite a bit of foam during the first few days which can clog the narrow neck of a glass jug.
The downside to using two fermentation vessels is that it's not easy to find the proper type of bucket unless you go to a homebrew store, or buy it online. Also, you'll need to drill a hole and insert a gasket so that you can add your fermentation lock.
With 1 ½ cup of brown sugar in the mix, plus the naturally occurring sugars in the ginger, you'll wind up with a ginger beer that is about 3% - 4% ABV (alcohol by volume).
Next, prepare your yeast. Heat about 1 cup of the ginger/sugar liquid to around 105°F –not too hot or you will kill the yeast. Stir in the contents of the yeast package, loosely cover and set aside.
After about 30 minutes to 1 hour, you should start seeing signs of activity in the yeast–foaming and bubbling.
Yeast requires a few essential nutrients to survive, which are sometimes missing from the fruit (or ginger) and sugar. To ensure an active, vigorous fermentation, you can add 1 tsp of powdered yeast nutrient to your yeast starter.
Add the liquid yeast mixture to your ginger/sugar/water mix in the fermenter and attach an airlock, making sure the cork fits tightly.
Your fermentation lock may not look exactly like ours, but they all work a similar way. You add water to the lock so that the escaping gasses bubble through it. The allows the gas to exit without any air (and new bacteria) getting in.
Allow your brew to sit undisturbed in a cool, dim place for 3 to 7 days, until the fermentation has slowed (the bubbles coming through the airlock have slowed down) and the sediment created during fermentation has had a chance to settle.
Once the fermentation has slowed down, you're ready to strain the ginger solids out.
Using a fine mesh strainer, or a piece of cheesecloth, slowly pour/strain your brew into a large pot. Once again, anything that your brew touches should be properly sanitized.
If you're going to be using the same glass jug to continue the fermentation, go ahead and wash it out–you'll likely have quite a bit of sediment stuck to the bottom. Pour your brew back into it. You'll notice that the jug isn't quite full any more–this is due to the space that the ginger took up. You can just top off the with plain water–pour it over the ginger in the strainer first to extract that last bit of ginger-y goodness, then top off the glass jug to about 1" below the cork.
Allow the ginger beer to sit in the secondary fermenter for another two weeks. You'll see sediment settling to the bottom of the jug, but the brew won't get completely clear. That's ok–we're not making Canada Dry; good ginger beer is still cloudy.
After two weeks you're ready to "rack" your ginger beer. This is the process of siphoning off the cider from the yeast "sludge" that has settled at the bottom of the jug. You'll also be sweetening and carbonating the brew. To sweeten it you will need to use a non-fermentable sweetener like Xylitol sugar alcohol, or Stevia. I'm using a liquid Stevia for my brew.
Slowly and carefully pour the ginger beer into a sanitized pot, stopping before any of the sediment in the bottom is transferred.
You'll probably leave about an inch of liquid in the bottom along with the sediment. That's fine, it's better to lose some of your brew than to transfer the sediment.
Once all of the cider has been transferred, sweeten it to taste. There's no exact measurement that I can give you, since it depends on how sweet you like it and what you are using to sweeten. In my case I used 80 drops of the liquid Stevia. IMPORTANT: To sweeten the ginger beer, you MUST use some sort of non-fermentable sweetener. If you just add sugar, then the yeast will go to work on it again and either make more alcohol (if you have a fermentation lock on) or carbonate your ginger beer (if it's in a sealed bottle). Either way, sugar won't make it sweeter!
You'll probably want to carbonate your ginger beer–you could drink it "still" (flat), but bubbly is so much better! Heat 1 cup of water and add ¼ cup brown sugar.
Mix the sugar and water until they are completely dissolved, then set them aside to cool down to room temperature. Once they are cool, stir them into the ginger beer.
Now you're ready to bottle the cider. I like to use these bottles with swing-top lids, but you can use anything from regular capped glass bottles to emptied 16 ounce water bottles.
I like to fill an empty plastic water bottle to use to test the carbonation level. When your bottles are filled, set them aside at room temperature. A small amount of fermentation will begin again (due to the added sugar). Give the plastic bottle a squeeze every day; when it is rock-hard, you've got a good amount of carbonation, and it's time to move the bottles to the refrigerator to stop the fermentation process.
If you can wait, allow the ginger beer to sit for at least 1 month to allow the flavors to fully develop. It should keep in your refrigerator for up to 1 year.
If you find you'd like even more ginger intensity, try adding another tablespoon or two of fresh grated ginger during the secondary fermentation process.